I (Still!) Read the Internets – 4/09/08

Hey there, Internets! Long time no see (as it were)!

If anyone’s been wondering what happened to the I Read the Internets column, the short version is that I decided that I really don’t want to file papers for the rest of my life, and am going through a certification program so that I can become a high school English teacher (scary, I know). So I’ve been kinda distracted and had less time in general for internets reading, and also have had way less time for writing about what I’ve read.

But I am still reading the internets, if in a more limited way than before, and I thought that it’d be nice to share the interesting things I come across with you all again, even if I can’t do it weekly or as comprehensively as I’ve done in the past.

So! Here are some internets, for your reading pleasure:

First up, Naamen (who I’ve got a bit of a brain crush on lately) kickstarted a really interesting discussion over at Feminist SF – The Blog! about “The Fantasy of Rape: The Use of Rape as a Catalyst on Female Protagonists in SF/F:”

…what I want to talk about is that odd sub-genre (though I hesitate to name it a genre) within SF/F which are the Rape-and-Revenge stories (more prevalent in Fantasy but it’s in Sci-Fi as well). For a lot of us who were searching out female protagonists in our youth these were some of the first stories we ran across.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but yeah. A lot of the very first fantasy books featuring female leads that I read as a YA-age reader had the “Rape-and-Revenge” trope. At the time, I was so freaking thrilled to get to read a story about a woman that I don’t think I even noticed. But looking back… Ew.

On a rather different women-in-fiction note, Bright_Lilim wrote a post in her LiveJournal titled “Why I read Lois McMaster Bujold,” talking about what a difference it can make to a female reader to read stories written by someone who isn’t focused solely on male characters’ needs and desires. I’ve only read one book by Bujold, and I liked it so well that I’ve been meaning to pick up more ever since. Guess I’d better get on that!

And in books-with-pictures reading, Avalon’s Willow wrote a post at Seeking Avalon about a manga that she’s really enjoying that intrigued me. She talks about how all of the female characters are blonde, but they don’t look alike, which is a marked departure from what’s going on in many mainstream American comics right now. She also says:

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that for me manga goes weird in the other direction. I can tell the girls apart, but the men? They often look the same – pretty, with either short or long hair; spiky short hair, long swishy long hair. And male body types seem to fall into; broad shouldered, long legged male, young lanky twinky male, muscular patow! bulging! male and the rounded face barely into their teens proto-child.

Which I found particularly interesting, since I happened to pick up a book about drawing in manga style this week (I’m terrible at drawing, but have always wanted to do it, so I’m attracted magnet-and-iron-filing-style to “how to draw ___” books) where the author stated very matter-of-factly that while it’s important for male characters in manga to have individual and often rugged faces, female characters should all have the same bland sort of prettiness, and that hair and clothes are enough for the reader to differentiate them, so it’s okay if their faces are identical. Oh, except that evil female characters can sometimes be ugly – but not usually!

Obviously, not every artist is following that school of thought. But the “how to draw ___” books for American comics and manga comics seem to be depressingly similar.

For those who like to listen to stories as much as reading them, the long-awaited PodCastle, “The Fantasy Fiction Podcast,” is now active (casting? I have no idea what the verb would be there). I haven’t had a chance to give it a listen yet, but I’ve seen some good reports.

In other internets, K. Tempest Bradford had an interesting column up at Fantasy Magazine recently about powertripping wikiers who make it hard for anyone interested in bringing more attention to, for example, race in science fiction to do so on a mainstream “anyone can edit” site like Wikipedia.

For those of you who need a gaming internets fix, the April issue of Cerise is live, with a grab-bag of content on a variety of topics. And for the writers among you, submissions over there are, as ever, open.

And now, something amusing for the close! Well, amusing to me, anyway. If you’re a fan of awesomely bad writing, out-of-control metaphors and romance (complete with euphemistically explicit sex scenes) – in SPACE! – you should check out the April Fools “prank” that Karen Healey and I pulled this year. Our author personas are fictional, but the novelettes are quite real, and you can get the download version for free if you’re keen on that sort of thing.

That’s the extent of the internets I have for you at this time, but I hope to be back soon with some more. Probably not every week, but some internets are better than no internets, right?

Comments

  1. says

    where the author stated very matter-of-factly that while it’s important for male characters in manga to have individual and often rugged faces, female characters should all have the same bland sort of prettiness, and that hair and clothes are enough for the reader to differentiate them, so it’s okay if their faces are identical.

    Well, that really backs up the theory I was developing on the heels of writing “If male actors had to be as blandly perfect…” which is that it’s all about making the women so ordinary that the males stand out.

  2. Patrick says

    The fact that you and Karen Healey collaborate is both awesome and a little scary.

    The “Rape & Revenge” article was quite interesting. Like the poster, I have a soft spot for Mercedes Lackey’s “Tarma and Kethry” stories. While they start off as very, very standard fantasy rape and revenge (complete with the wiped out clan and the divinely-backed vow of celibacy) from there they go on to be very interesting.

    This article does address something I’ve been concerned with in something I’ve been working on. One of the central characters in the superhero comic that I’m writing (no artist, alas) has the following orgin: She, her husband, and their young son are shot in a botched mugging. Her superhuman powers manifest and save her life, but her husband and son die. She goes on to become the “avenger” superhero archtype (working codename: Nemesis – yes, I know comics like about eight characters with this name, it is temporary), combining badassery, anger, and skill with a strong moral center.

    Thing is, while there is no rape in her origin, I do worry about how it fits into the “hero is motivated by personal tragedy” as noted in the Rape & Revenge article. While it is certainly true that heroes of both genders get motivations like these, the article is absolutely correct in that female protagonists get it overhwelmingly more often than male protagonists.

  3. says

    Laura – Thanks! I’ve missed doing IRtI, so hopefully I’ll find a way to balance everything so that I can pick it up semi-regularly again. :-)

    Beta – Yeah. Just… yeah.

    Patrick – Karen and I collaborate on a lot of stuff, actually. We’re BFFs and all, but also have writing styles that mesh very well together. When we’re not writing parody-flavored sci-fi romance, we even do serious novels, sometimes. ;-)

    I found the Mercedes Lackey connection interesting, too. Her Tarma and Kethry novels were some of the very first fantasy I read, and I remember being totally in love with them. I haven’t re-read them in years, but from what I know of Lackey’s more recent work, I feel like if I picked them up again I wouldn’t be totally freaked out by the rape-and-revenge aspect the same way I would with other books.

    I like that you’re really thinking about the ramifications with your superhero storyline. The way you phrased it here, it reads as a really gender-neutral motivation to me, but it’s definitely worth pondering all of the options and seeing where and how you can break out of a gendered box when you’re writing something new.

  4. says

    Patrick, actually, I think there’s a lack of women avenger stories not based on rape or something considered “women’s business.” Maybe I’m watching/reading the wrong stuff, but:

    TV is littered with stories where a wife is killed/raped/turned into a Goa’uld and the husband seeks revenge. Conversely, I can’t think of anything where a husband dies and the wife goes on a rampage. There are stories where mothers avenge their daughters. Stories where the unpopular girl in high school gets revenge on the popular girls. Stories where first wives get revenge on cheating ex-husbands and their new wives.

    But damned if I can think of one single story where a WOMAN avenges a MAN or a SON over a crime that had nothing to do with her being a woman. Never do we see a woman seeking justice just because it needs sought. We only see women seeking it if they’ve been hurt for being a woman.

    And not often even then.

    For that reason, your story interests me.

  5. Ide Cyan says

    The movie “The Forgotten” has a woman trying to uncover a conspiracy related to the death of her son. The comic “The Sandman” had a major antagonist who wanted revenge for her son’s kidnapping. Sarah Connor’s entire role in the fight against the machines revolves around her being the mother of a particular son. The movie “The Deep End” is about a mother trying to save her son from criminals who are blackmailing her. Elizabeth Bear’s novel “Carnival” gives its main female character an interest in her son’s future as a motivation.

    Sons aren’t that uncommon a motivation for female characters; they still tie women into the stereotypical maternal position.

    Action on someone else’s behalf is half of the traditional female role that Joanna Russ describes in “Power and Helplessness in the Women’s Movement”.

    Patrick: the trap lying in wait with a storyline in which a woman becomes an avenger after the death of her husband and son is the double standard that women are held to — that she wouldn’t have become this avenger if she’d been fulfilled with the role of wife-and-mother, that her superhuman abilities *require* the sacrifice of femininity. Which is loaded bullshit, naturally, since it presupposes that femininity precludes power; the other half of the traditional female role is helplessness and ineffectiveness on one’s own behalf. The double-bind requires personal sacrifice from effective women. And so much posturing under the superficial markers of “femininity” ensues, to ensure, or rather reassure, the audience that the character isn’t really acting like a man — begging the question of why action is the masculine prerogative, and espousing the polarisation of non-sexual characteristics (from makeup to labour) into categories bound to a sex-tagged division.

    (Which polarisation of characteristics isn’t quite the same thing as the conflicting classes to which they are attributed.)

  6. Patrick says

    Thanks for the feedback!

    Ide Cyan:

    the trap lying in wait with a storyline in which a woman becomes an avenger after the death of her husband and son is the double standard that women are held to — that she wouldn’t have become this avenger if she’d been fulfilled with the role of wife-and-mother, that her superhuman abilities *require* the sacrifice of femininity. Which is loaded bullshit, naturally, since it presupposes that femininity precludes power; the other half of the traditional female role is helplessness and ineffectiveness on one’s own behalf. The double-bind requires personal sacrifice from effective women. And so much posturing under the superficial markers of “femininity” ensues, to ensure, or rather reassure, the audience that the character isn’t really acting like a man — begging the question of why action is the masculine prerogative, and espousing the polarisation of non-sexual characteristics (from makeup to labour) into categories bound to a sex-tagged division.

    This is exactly one concern I had. I do have a story planned that addresses this trope: in an alternate reality where her husband and son were never killed, Anna (the hero) was instead in an auto accident which caused her powers to manifest. Instead of being the avenger-style Nemesis, she becomes the bright and shiny Golden Guardian.

    There are a few thing that I’m trying to do to avoid the trope in the main storyline, though. For one thing, rather than the “woman driven to action on behalf of others,” she is more clearly given the context of “fighter motivated to return to combat.” In her youth Anna was seriously athletic and studied martial arts, but was a bit of a delinquent and got into lots of fights. She eventually matured and became responsible (notably before she met her future husband). When her husband and son are killed, and her powers manifest, Anna returns to her martial arts teacher to refresh her skills and develops her superhero persona.

    One thing that I do try to stress is that, while Anna has a lot of anger, her main motivation is not vengeance, but feeling that she needs to use her powers constructively. Another thing I’m stressing is that her refusal to kill has nothing to do with her gender, but is a moral decisions based on her beliefs.

  7. says

    I’m not familiar enough with the other examples to discuss them, Ide Cyan, but Sarah Connor wasn’t after revenge*. I was talking strictly about revenge stories. Would I rather see a woman (yet again) as the corpse who launches a man’s revenge quest, or see a woman avenging a corpse or two? I’ll take the latter.

    Patrick, I think if you delve deep enough into a character’s motives, you can avoid the traps. There also comes a point where some people are going to read into it whatever message they’re predisposed to get, and creators can’t be responsible for that if they’ve made a clear effort to put something else across.

    *I don’t consider Sarah Connor to be the great feminist advance some people seem to. As far as I could tell, the movies were really all about teh coolness that was Ahnold, and about John, and Sarah was just a very interesting side effect. I mean, kudos for featuring a bulked up woman who could kick ass, but in terms of story… nothing new here.

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